The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe: Consciousness, Political Opportunity, and Public Policy

By Mary Fainsod Katzenstein; Carol McClurg Mueller | Go to book overview

11
Workers' Movements and Women's Interests: The Impact of Labor-State Relations in Britain and Sweden

MARY RUGGIE

Workers' movements and the development of trade unions are commonly conceptualized by feminists as basically male-dominated concerns, despite their liaison with socialist ideologies. Feminists generally explain trade union disregard of women's interests within the theoretical framework of patriarchy (see Weir and Wilson 1984). This chapter seeks to analyze the involvement of unions with women workers and women's issues within a totally different paradigm, one based on the relations between labor and the state. Stressing an alternative explanation does not necessarily imply an argument against the common feminist approach, but it does suggest an attempt to break out of the confines of conceptualizing patriarchy as the main problem in women's work. When all is said and done, it may well be that what is presented here is itself explainable by the patriarchal roots of the modern state; still, as the following account demonstrates, there are certain detours on route to the final analysis that feminists must come to terms with in order to gain a full understanding of the relationship between labor, the state, and women.

By focusing on the experiences of Britain and Sweden, this chapter traces the development of women's place in the unions and union initiatives on behalf of women workers within the context of organized labor's relations with its representative political party. In both Britain and Sweden, unionism has a long history of developing in concert with supportive socialist-democratic political parties. Both the Labour party in Britain and the Social Democratic party in Sweden have held office for considerable, albeit varying, periods of time because of their labor-based support. In both countries coalitions between the party in power and unions have informed government actions.

Here the similarities diverge. When the Labour party has been in power in Britain, organized labor has always been consulted on certain matters, and a form of tripartitism has been attempted on certain occasions, but labor has never been a consistent and integral partner at the level of the state. The interests of labor have frequently been interpreted (by both organized labor and the Labour

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